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Mateen Siddiqui

Mateen Siddiqui did his Masters in Sociology from Dacca University, former East Pakistan. He, along with his family, fled the country in 1972 soon after its violent creation in to Bangladesh a year earlier. He managed to reach Karachi 'to start my life all over again with only assets being my clothes.' He got himself registered with the Public Works Department as contractor in 1976 and worked in the construction business till 1986 and was also elected the General Secretary of PWD Contractors' Association. In 1986 he made a career change from construction to fruit exporter. Today his company, Rishad Mateen, is a leading exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables. Mateen is the chairman of Fruit Vegetable Processors and Exporters Association.

By Syed M. Aslam
Dec 10 - 16 , 2001



PAGE: What induced you to make a career change from construction to fruit export?

Mateen Siddiqui: I happened to visit a number of places in the Far East including Bangkok, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong years prior to starting my own company. I realized that Pakistani fruits can help make a big niche in these countries. For instance, mango then was a hot item commanding good prices in Hong Kong. During many visits I ordered cartons of mangoes delivered to me which I sold from shop to shop. You may call me door-to-door mango salesman. I was also impressed by the profit of margin then Rs 8,000 on every ton or 665 dollars at the conversion rate of Rs 12/dollar.

PAGE: Why so little value addition is taking place in fruits and vegetables?

Mateen Siddiqui: It is due to reasons of economics as well as eating habits. Tin packing, one of the basic pre-requisite for value-addition, is very expensive as we have to import tin. In addition, unlike the developed countries where pure fruit and vegetable pulps such as orange, tomato, mango make an essential parts of breakfast and meals there is no demand for such products. Whatever little demand is there it can be met by a number of operators. On the one hand the highly expensive cost of packing renders value-added products in-competitive in the international market and on the other, the domestic base of them is very small. That explains why there is not a single big plant producing concentrated fruit pulp in the country and a couple of relatively smaller plants which did, had to close their operations.

PAGE: What could be done?

Mateen Siddiqui: Despite the above discouraging factors, both economic and cultural, the importance of value-addition can hardly be over-emphasized. Value-addition is imperative to help us avoid immense wastage of fruits and vegetables due to one of many reasons be it absence of farm-to-market infrastructure or absence of storage capacity in a temperature controlled environment. Value-addition can help us substantially increase our export earnings by avoiding massive wastage of fruits and preserving them. For instance, substantial quantity of plum is produced in and around the city of Peshawar. Some 40 per cent of the plum crop is wasted within the premises of the very orchards it is grown in and another 20 per cent is lost during the transportation.

PAGE: What fruit has the greatest export potential?

Mateen Siddiqui: It definitely is Kino, our equivalent of mandarins. Mango also has a great potential. One fruit which has great export potential which remains totally underutilized today is persimone, or Amlok. It has immense demand in the Far East market which readily pays a premium price on this fruit of Japanese origin. It is in great demand in the Far East market where it is sold by piece instead of by kilogram here. The good thing is that we have a sizeable exportable surplus. However, there are certain problems that got to be solved if we intend to materialize the immense potential. The amlok that we grow has two major problems number one it turns excessively tender when ripe and number two, it is too sticky and choking taste. The agriculturists, researchers and scientists should try to develop new variety with reduced water content, lesser stickiness and gradual ripening to make an impact in the valuable market of the Far East.

PAGE: What about grapes?

Mateen Siddiqui: Yes Pakistani grapes also have great potential in the European, Gulf and Middle Eastern markets. We have failed to develop a major market for our grapes yet. While we have been exporting grapes to Bangladesh for over a dozen years, it is only for the first time this year that they are shipped by sea. This shows that we had been wrong all along that grapes can only be shipped by air as has been the case. It takes about 22 days to ship grapes shipment from Quetta to Dacca via Karachi and Chittagong and the entire shipment reached there in perfectly good condition. This means increased grape exports to Bangladesh where it is much popular to retail for as much as 300 Takas per kilogram. Yes, we have the surplus.

PAGE: What about onion and potato?

Mateen Siddiqui: Despite having sizeable crops the two most widely vegetables have been able to make a presence in Sri Lanka only. We are the biggest exporter of potato to Sri Lanka and we have been able to take the entire market away from the Indian counterpart. While our onion has also been able to make a heavy presence in Sri Lanka it is not as preferred. We need to expand the market of onion and potato which revolves round primarily Sri Lanka, Dubai and Malaysia.